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The Dark Tower I: The Gunslinger
By Stephen King
Review by David Goransson
What do you get when you mix the epicness of Tolkien, exalt in the cool of “The Good The Bad and The Ugly,” are partial to Arthurian legend, and possibly (some have suggested) have overindulged in too much weed? You get “The Gunslinger” the first book in Stephen King’s Magnum Opus “The Dark Tower Series.”
This will be the third time I’ve read “The Gunslinger,” and each time I read it the more I appreciate it. Not for its plot structure, which is often times as broken as Roland–but more for its “vibe.” A certain coolness that exudes from a character who is chillingly relentless and unapologetically single-minded in his quest to the point of obsession.
Plus he has a massive pair of .45 calibre six shooters.
For those who have finished the series, there is a lot to appreciate in rereading the beginning. There are people and characters and places and events mentioned, sometimes only in passing, that will have veterans nodding their head. But for the first timer–a lot of it will be just gibberish. And a lot of first timers will hate the ending, or “non” ending, and possibly curse the day King was born. That’s why I often suggest that virgin Tower Knights skip this book altogether. There’s nothing in the plot you actually need to start the journey. Because as a beginning this book is hopeless to the point where many will despair of the quest before its begun. But as a prequel this book is fantastic. It will be like returning to an old lover and discovering something deeper about their soul.
Do yourself a favour cully and wait a book or two till you are ready. There is no rush for this one. Else by the time you can appreciate this story you will have forgotten it. “Time’s the thief of memory” as Vannay says. So will you cry off maggot and turn aside? No? It’s too bad. It will be sad to see you broken and set upon a blind path. But if you are so determined to pull leather, then take your stance with legs set wide and I will do what I can, not to convince you to read this book, but rather to continue with the next, should you stumble on the way.
So come, let us have our Palaver, do it please ya.
Firstly I’d advise getting a copy of the 2003 edition or later. It has been edited and revised to fit better with the following books and possibly make a bit more sense for first timers. I would also recommend having a squiz at Robert Browning’s poem “Childe Roland to the Dark Tower Came,” which inspired this book. It’s about 34 Stanza’s long and tells the story of a knight on an elusive quest for the Dark Tower, driven by duty and obsession
Somewhere beyond In-World, but not Mid-World. The world is broken.
‘The world has moved on,’ we say . . . we’ve always said. But it’s moving on faster now. Something has happened to time. It’s softening’
Clocks can’t be trusted and people measure time by other means, like Jake who counts one to two weeks as “3 poops.” Distance and direction is also adrift.
The landscape of the story looks pretty much like any barren wilderness in any Western. In fact, at the start, one could be forgiven for mistaking this book for a Western. But its not long before the reader will get the unnerving feeling that things are off kilter. Walk into Tull for example. It’s your typical Western shanty complete with stables for your horse and a good old saloon come whorehouse. Except there’s a honky-tonk piano’s playing a rendition of “Hey Jude.” What the..? And pretty early on we get a random glimpse of a Taheen. Do you ken “Taheen?” Cry your pardon, but how could you, unless you had already read further into the series. Say sorry. Man’s body, raven’s head–this one anyway. There are old machines long disused, that were powered by electricity or atomics. There are slow mutants and threaded stock (non-mutated men and animals) are getting rarer. Ah, an alternate Universe? Or rather, a parallel Universe. Do you say so? One of many. “… there were many remnants of the gone world, just as there were demons.”
The boy who didn’t come from this place but vaguely remembers dying in a vaguely remembered other world. A world where the buildings are so tall they scrape the sky and people drink Coca Cola and watch teevee, and there is a Ka-tet of musicians who call themselves “Kiss.” Do you ken it? He loves the gunslinger, even though the gunslinger doesn’t deserve his love any more than his neglectful ma and da did–possibly less.
The Man in Black
“The man in black fled across the desert, and the gunslinger followed.”
In Browning’s poem he is referred to as a “hoary cripple,” a liar, a kind of devil who is all too happy to take deals to point out the road to obsession. In this story he is the sort of villain who resurrects a devil weed addict and embues him with eternal life–not because he wants him to be well, but because he wants the addict to suffer in his addiction forever. He offers a barren woman a child. A child king. Just kill the unkillable interloper first. Not because he wants his enemy dead, but because he wants his enemy damned. He gives his enemy a boy to love, but …. “While you travel with the boy, the man in black travels with your soul in his pocket.”
“This bad man . . . this Marten . . . he was a wizard. Like Merlin. Do they ken Merlin where you come from?”
“Merlin and Arthur and the knights of the Round Table,” Jake said dreamily.
The gunslinger felt a nasty jolt go through him. “Yes,” he said. “Arthur Eld, you say true, I say thank ya…”
What is a “gunslinger” in this world? Well its not a cowboy with a pistol. Roland Deschain comes from the heart of In-World. From Gilead in New Canaan. A city of castles.
Yar!” He paused. “When I was your age, I lived in a walled city, did I tell you that?”
The castles are ruled by knights called “Gunslingers.” So called because of the “Irons” that are the mark of their office. Roland’s father Steven Deschain was a direct descendant of Arthur Eld and Lord of his version of Camelot.
My father had by then taken control of his ka-tet, you must ken—the Tet of the Gun—and was on the verge of becoming Dinh of Gilead, if not all In-World
But the world has moved on. And Roland is the last gunslinger and he is on a mission to fix the Universe. To find the Dark Tower. Everything else, love, family, humanity, his very soul is expendable in the light of the greater good. See it well. See it very well indeed.
So have I convinced you yet to carry on to book 2? I hope so. Because I’ve seen the end of that journey and would have you set upon the path. Not because I am wise or good. Perhaps I just play the hoary cripple–I say true. I say thank ya.
Long days and pleasant nights